Censorship: The Metaphaysics of Sovereign Culture

Censorship: The Metaphaysics of Sovereign Culture

The Liberal Censorship in the Contemporary West

The topic of censorship is not only highly topical for our society (especially in the context of the SMO), but also philosophically fundamental. Contemporary Western culture increasingly resorts to censorship, despite trying to present liberalism as the abolition of all censorship criteria. In reality, what is censorship[1] if not the most radical form of censoring any idea, image, doctrine, work or thought that does not fit into the narrow and increasingly exclusivist dogma of the 'open society'? Even today, at the Cannes Film Festival and other prestigious venues controlled by the West, it is impossible to pass by without the bare minimum: non-traditional forms of sexual identity, racial diversity, anti-colonial (and in fact neo-colonial liberal) discourse and so on. What else but a totalitarian and pandemic censorship is wokeism[2], i.e. an appeal to all citizens to be 'awake' and to report immediately to the relevant authorities as soon as they notice a hint of deviation from liberal values - racism (Russophobia is an exception), racism (racism is an exception here, as Russia is not politically correct), 'sexism', 'patriotism' (again, Ukrainian Nazism is an exception, which is welcome as it is a fight against 'Russians'), gender inequality (e.g. protection of the normal traditional family)? And isn't the infamous 'political correctness'[3], which insistently and under threat of total ostracism forces us to avoid certain terms, expressions, quotations, formulations that might offend the sensibilities of liberal society, censorship? In today's West, we are faced with a veritable flowering of censorship and this is an undeniable fact, regardless of the synonyms that can be invented for it.

Russia is condemned to censorship both if it follows the West and if, on the contrary, it questions or even directly rejects its norms and rules. We have already entered the age of censorship and now we are left to truly understand: what is it?

The meaning of metaphor

Let us begin our reflection on this important topic with a basic metaphor. [4] pointed out that even in the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, etc., the construction of a scientific theory begins with science. - The construction of a scientific theory begins with a sensual, sometimes purely poetic metaphor. Without metaphor, there would be no idea of atoms, states of matter, plasma, fluids and matter itself. It is therefore legitimate to raise the question of the image of the censor and censorship as such.

Usually, in the mind immediately appears the figure of a spiteful and limited official, completely untalented and creatively powerless, who deliberately hates the very element of talent, living research, envies creators and geniuses and tries to reduce everyone to the same rule. This image provokes rejection, and any further discussion on the subject of whether censorship is necessary in society is built around this ugly caricature - an inferior, low and vulgar character. Do we want this censorship and censorship? - Any sensible person would answer 'no', 'no way'. How the discussion will develop is clear from the start. Some will sincerely resent it, others will irrevocably defend the image and its practical usefulness by arguing that things would be even worse without it, but if we agree with this starting metaphor, we have consciously lost. We won't be able to defend censorship, which means that the most polemically and rhetorically adept liberals will simply impose their censorship on society - more elegantly framed and coupled with other key images - the women who suffer from the arbitrariness of patriarchy, the oppressed ethnic and sexual minorities, the undocumented illegal migrants will speak for those who impose other rules of censorship. The victims - or rather, the artificial images of the victims, carefully crafted holograms - will now speak for the judges and even the executioners, and the public will not realise that in the fight against censorship they have found themselves under the sway of cruel and unyielding totalitarian censors. They have simply changed their image and no longer call themselves that, but this does not change the essence of what they do and what they impose on society.

If we continue to follow Gaston Bachelard's logic, we would have to change the image of the censor and we would get a completely different picture. Let us imagine the censor as Michelangelo Buanarotti, carving his immortal masterpiece, the Pieta, out of granite rock. This absolute masterpiece in every sense can be found in St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Another similar metaphor - perhaps on a larger scale, but less refined and expressive to the Christian mind - is that of the Egyptian Sphinx, carved in the mid 3rd millennium BC at Giza next to the pyramid complex[5].

If the censor embodies the image of Michelangelo or the Egyptian builders of the Sphinx, his function is to sculpt from the creative potential of society as from a rock a refined and sophisticated sacred image that corresponds as closely as possible to the historical collective identity. In other words, the censor is a kind of macro-demiurge whose material (the rock) is the totality of the creative capacities and creative pursuits of the people. From the rock, the censor cuts out the superfluous and leaves the necessary. For a great and elegant statue full of spirit, meaning and an enormous creative inner life is born in this way: by cutting the superfluous.  Such cutting, although painful for the marble itself, for the flesh of the rock, is an act of higher creation. To cut away the superfluous is to leave the superfluous, and the superfluous means the fundamental, the essential, that which was secretly hidden in the granite, which was intuited and recognised in it, and finally deduced from it. The censor, like Michelangelo, is the one who, in the formless block of marble, sees the Pieta, that is, Christ and the Mother of God holding his holy body in their arms. And seeing it, he sovereignly and freely cuts away the superfluous that prevents the image from penetrating the dark element of the mineral.  Similarly, the ancient Egyptians of the time of Pharaoh Chephren, looking at the solid limestone rock, recognise the majestic and mysterious figure of Sinfx, the pantherion, prototype of the celestial cherubim, who combines animal and human characteristics in an inseparable transcendental synthesis.

The censor creates culture, and for this he must possess the highest degree of sovereignty. He knows both what he must give and what he must leave behind. Indeed, the censor is a creator, an artist, but he only acts at the level of the whole society, the whole people. Therefore, he depends on his quality more than an ordinary creator. A creator is entitled to error, to experiment, to failure. The censor does not. He is charged by society to chisel out an image that society, people carry in their hearts, in their souls. That image, with which the people are pregnant, is fraught with danger. It has no right to make mistakes.

The censor is not an artist

There is another difference between the censor and the artist. The censor cuts out unnecessary things. He does not replace the artist, he is not a bearer of creative energy. If the censor were a creator, he would simply identify his work with that of society, but this is a vicious path, it closes off those directions that can go towards the image sought by other means. The censor differs from Michelangelo because he does not leave his signature under the work - so did Michelangelo himself under the Pieta. He is not an artist among artists. He is an ascetic, who voluntarily abandons his own creative potential, his own will, in favour of a collective, all-public, universal work. He does not create so much as let others create, but only those with whom he identifies himself as the creators of the Pieta, not just pieces of obscure material that wish to be recognised as works of art. He removes the burrs and sharpens the delicate forms, but he does not create them himself. It is the work of a sculptor, not that of a painter or a poet.

The censor must therefore be the guardian of art, not its spontaneous creator. In this sense, a series of definitions and formulations by Martin Heidegger in his seminal work The Origins of the Work of Art [6]is more than always appropriate.

It is significant that we do not know by name the creators of the ancient Egyptian Sphinx, who recognised its features in the rock. They remain as much a mystery as the Sphinx itself. In a way, the censor-custodian should be more like them: his anonymity is part of his sovereign power.

The censor defines the limits, the boundaries of what is art and what is mere marble. To be able to do this, he must be deeply connected to his culture, understand its logic, its historiographic vector, its orientation, its structure. And for this he must be completely and utterly sovereign.

Censor as sovereign

It is important to establish at the outset that the censor is not an office of the state. He cannot just be an official who carries out someone's orders. In this case we are not dealing with the censor, but with a representative of the censor, his herald, messenger, and the figure of the true censor is simply hidden from us in the shadows. The censor is the bearer of absolute sovereignty. He is not employed by power and does not serve it, he is a part of this power, its organic aspect aimed at the field of culture. The other aspects of sovereign power are addressed to other fields: economics, foreign policy, defence, the social sphere. The censor carries the burden of cultural sovereignty. And in this matter he has no higher authority. Who can dictate to Michelangelo how the Pieta should look or how the Sphinx should be? Michelangelo conceived it, created it from marble rock. The Egyptian builders carved the Sphinx out of limestone.

Of course Michelangelo himself and the Egyptian architects were not in a vacuum. Michelangelo was part of the Catholic civilisation, a true son of Renaissance Florence, the bearer of a very particular historical and geographical spirit, a particular identity. Whatever he created, he would have created Christianity and his work is judged in this way and from this perspective. The Pieta is superior to Michelangelo, but in the conceptualisation and presentation of the Pieta he is superior to all others, he is sovereign in a particular spiritual context. Here he is completely free, but he is not free from the context itself.

This is seen even more clearly in the creators of the Sphinx. They are flesh and blood of the Egyptian priestly tradition, the bearers of a very particular sacredness; if their gaze recognises in a shapeless block of stone the figure of a being from the spiritual world, then the gaze itself is fundamentally structured, educated and saturated with those images that it gathers from the external environment. The Egyptians carry the Sphinx in their soul, in the depths of themselves. It has a special relationship with their identity.

So too, the censor reflects the fate of his people, of his society, at the very moment in history in which he finds himself. Having understood and recognised this, he is otherwise free. But he is not free. Not only is the censor not free from the country, its history, its people's identity and destiny, but he is more dependent on it than all creators. The creators can try to create anything. And they are certainly not free of historical and social content, but they act as if they were completely free. Their freedom is limited by a censor who is far more responsible to history than they are. But he too is limited, only in a different way. Not by power, but by being, by understanding, by discovering his structure, his destiny.

Censorship as an institution of justice

Now, with some delay, let us turn to the etymology and genesis of the notion of censorship, of censor. The word derives from the Latin censeo - 'to define', 'to evaluate', 'to give meaning', as well as 'to think', 'to suppose'. At the origin is the Indo-European root *kens- 'to declare'.

Historically, the institution of the censors arose in ancient Rome and was independent of the other branches of government, called upon to give an objective assessment of the material state, the state of public works and the functioning of public institutions, as well as to monitor the observance of morals. In essence, the censor is responsible for justice, for the correspondence between the stated norms of society and the state of affairs. It is a spiritual check on the behaviour of the various authorities and instances, based on the fact that rules and norms of principle must be observed by all, both from above and below.

In other words, censorship is an apparatus that guarantees justice. If a society swears by certain ideals, it must follow them and to do so, there are censors.

Thus, censorship is not an instrument of power directed against the masses, but a certain transcendent instance intended to monitor justice at all levels, both above and below, and which has the power to empower both.

The term censeo, therefore, does not simply mean 'evaluation', but precisely a fair assessment based on what is, not on what it seems. It is a verification of the true state of affairs, independent of how anyone - even in the highest circles - would like to present it. Looking for modern analogues, censorship in the Roman sense corresponds to the modern notion of an 'audit', i.e. an objective and impartial verification of the true state of affairs - in a company, in a society, in an organisation of any scale.

To ensure fairness, however, to declare true value, one must know what is fair. This presupposes that the censor belongs to a very high instance of being, which can afford to be independent of the senate and the magistrates (if one takes Rome and its system), that is, of all branches and levels of power. Such sovereignty can only be possessed by the philosophers who, according to Plato, are the guardians, the 'custodians of being', Heidegger adds. Censorship, then, is primarily a matter of sovereign philosophy.

Lucian Blaga's Transcendental Censorship

The reference of censorship to philosophy forces us to look even closer at the metaphysical content of the concept, and here we can turn to the Romanian philosopher Lucian Blaga, who introduced the concept of 'transcendental censorship'.

To understand what Lucian Blaga means by 'transcendental censorship', it is necessary to say a few words about his philosophical theory in general. Blaga begins by saying that the Supreme Being - the Absolute and creator of the world - is the "Great Anonymous"[7]. Various laudatory epithets can reasonably be applied to the Great Anonymous: 'Great', 'Mighty', 'One', 'Wise', 'Eternal', etc., but except one: 'He who proclaims the Truth', 'the True One'. For Descartes it was axiomatic that God could not lie. Lucian Blaga is inclined to say the opposite: if the Great Anonymous revealed the truth, his creative power would immediately create his absolute doublet, which would short-circuit his pleroma. So he is forced to tell, if not an outright lie, at least not the whole truth and, even more precisely, he introduces transcendental censure - but again not in the utterance, but in the fundamental possibility of its adequate interpretation. He may reveal all wisdom, but first he deprives the one to whom he reveals it of the ability to understand it. This is the meaning of 'transcendental censure'. If God (the Great Anonymous) wanted to create a truly perfect and true creation, he would only be repeating himself; but this is impossible, because no two 'gods' can be completely identical; therefore, according to Lucian Blaga, in order to bring forth creation God must censor himself. Such censorship is the concealment of certain - higher - aspects of the structure of reality.

Blaga introduces the concepts of 'heavenly consciousness' and 'Luciferian consciousness'[8]. The former sees God and reality as a whole as a continuous triangle. It does not grasp the presence of transcendental censure and thinks of existence as non-existent. The second, on the contrary, recognises the catch, but rebels against the 'transcendental censure' and tries to crack it ('become God').

That line of reality that separates the positively accessible part of being from that subject to transcendental censure is what Blaga calls the 'mystery horizon'. The heavenly consciousness thinks that the ascent up the ladder of steps of being is uninterrupted and does not notice the mystery horizon, that is, the point at which continuity breaks down.

Luciferian consciousness is aware of the mystery horizon and insistently seeks to describe that part of being that is hidden behind the censored veil, using the same terms and approaches as the reality that lies beneath the mystery horizon. This creates a collision, the echoes of which we can clearly see in the state of modern western civilisation, which has become unequivocally Luciferian and seeks to break through the natural veils of mystery - deciphering the genome, creating AI, etc. Lucian Blaga's scheme can be reflected in the figure below.


Blaga himself calls for a third way: not to fall into the naivety of a paradisiacal consciousness that ignores the fundamental fissure in the structure of reality, but also not to be caught up in the Luciferian rebellion. One must focus on the horizon of the mystery, accepting the mystery, the sacrament as something self-sufficient. Yes, God is not knowable and the truth he gives us can never be complete. There will always be something hidden by an impenetrable veil. Something will always be censored and we will never know it.

This, however, is the freedom to create. We are free to imagine at will what lies beyond the horizon of mystery. Not science (luciferism), but culture[9] is what God wants us to do, what he allows us to do and what he encourages us to do.

In this situation, the censor takes on a special significance. He watches over the horizon of the mystery to keep it safe from satanic pride, to maintain its impregnability. Creation is free as long as it continues to respect the transcendental censor, and the censor finds himself in the position of someone endowed with a higher mission: to maintain the proportions of being as they should be for the existence of the world, exactly in that halfway state in which it is possible, when truth is dialectically intertwined with non-truth and until the end, where one ends and another begins no one will ever know. Until the end of the world.

Censorship in Russia

Beyond the caricatured figure of the censor and given the metaphysical weight of 'transcendental censorship' in Lucian Blaga's philosophy, we can look differently at those known facts that describe the state of censorship in the history of ancient and later imperial Russia. Thus, the lists of abjured books in the "Izbornik of 1073″ are not only a list of heresies and prohibitions, but also contain extensive material far beyond the sacred patristic heritage, which should be taken as the standard and norm. Here, the description of heresies serves to form a more contrasting image of what is right and correct. "The Izbornik sculpts a Pieta or a Sphinx - clearly describing the image itself and contrasting those fragments of marble rock or undue deviant paths to be cut away. Negation is inextricably linked to affirmation, and in general it is about revealing the image - the full orthodox Christian vision of truth, beauty and goodness. At the same time, the depths of monastic spiritual contemplation remain hidden. They have their place in the realm of the horizon of mystery, which Orthodoxy observes without attempting to invade or criticise directly.

Secular reforms under Peter and his successors separated spiritual censure from secular censure. Until the middle of the 18th century, the source of secular censorship was the tsar himself[10] (in this connection, let us recall what was said about the supreme sovereignty of the censor). Later Russian tsars delegated this right to various instances: the Senate, the Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Public Education, the Ministry of Internal Affairs[11] etc. But it is still a purely 'commissarial' delegation of certain purely sovereign powers by the tsar. It is an extension of sovereign power, not something independent and special.

A striking figure of censorship in the 19th century was Count Sergei Semyonovich Uvarov, who adapted the Slavophile principle of 'Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality' to the entire epistemological system of the Empire - to culture, education, politics, etc. The monarch supported this recognition of Slavophile rightness, but he did not so much formulate the content of the supreme censorship code as confirm the proposed version with his supreme authority. It was Uvarov himself who acted as censor, as guardian of the mysterious horizon of 19th century Russian culture.

The revolutionary democrats and Bolsheviks, who had mocked tsarist censorship as much as possible, took power in 1917 and followed exactly the same path, introducing a strict code of censorship, but only on the basis of their own ideology. Instead of the absence of censorship (which was completely impossible), the Bolsheviks introduced their own parameters and insisted on them much more aggressively, intolerantly and radically than the censors of the tsarist era.

We see something similar in contemporary liberals, both Russian and Western. Mercilessly criticising and ridiculing censorship in societies and regimes they dislike, as soon as they gain power they impose their own, even harsher and more intolerant, repressive and restrictive censorship rules. The Luciferian violation of the horizon of mystery does not lead to liberation from censorship, but to outright dictatorship, although the rebellion itself begins with a demand for unlimited freedom.


Censorship certainly exists in contemporary Russia, there is no society that does not have it, yet it is still enforced by liberals due to inertia in the 1990s. It is they who, having usurped this right and having no intention of renouncing it even under the new conditions, continue to hold a monopoly on censorship in the Russian Federation. The SMO conditions call for new actions, guidelines and methods on the part of the authorities, but so far the liberals have dealt with the situation by purely technical means. Liberalism, even when combined with the notion of sovereignty, remains the code of censorship. In general, the elite - including above all the epistemological elite - is sympathetic to the Western cultural code and stubbornly blocks the patriotic - Slavophilic, orthodox - code. Hence the contradictions with the logic of censorship: everything that corresponds, above all, to the liberal attitude is accepted and supported in the culture, but combined with loyalty to the regime and - even if not - recognition of Russia's sovereignty. Everything else is rejected. The sovereign censor of power is not yet carving out an orthodox image of Russian society, but a postmodern hybrid of 'sovereign capitalism'.

Obviously, we need another and different censor.

[1] Norris P.  Cancel Culture: Myth or Reality?// Political Studies. 71. August 11, 2021. P.145–174.

[2] McCutcheon Ch. Speaking Politics word of the week: woke"// The Christian Science Monitor. 25 July 2016.

[3] Bernstein D. You Can't Say That! The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws. Washington: Cato Institute,2003.

[4] Башляр Г. Новый рационализм. М.: Прогресс, 1987.

[5] Drioton É. Le Sphinx et les Pyramides de Giza. Cairo: Institut Français d'Archéolgie Orientale, 1939; Hawass Z. The Secrets of the Sphinx : Restoration Past and Present. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1998.

[6] Heidegger M. Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes/ Heidegger M. Holzwege. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2003.

[7] Blaga L. Les differreentielles divines. P.: Librairie du savoir, 1990.

[8] Blaga L. Trilogie de la connaissance. P.: Librairie du savoir, 1992.

[9] Blaga L. Trilogie de la culture. P.: Librairie du savoir, 1995.

[10] Тэкс Ч. М. Империя за забором. История цензуры в царской России. М.: Рудомино, 2002.

[11] Жирков Г. В. История цензуры в России XIX-XX века. Аспект-Пресс, 2001.


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Translation by Lorenzo Maria Pacini